A panoramic epic freighted with too many subplots.

LETTERS FROM ELK CITY

A sprawling drama spanning several centuries that dramatizes the treatment of African slaves and Native Americans throughout history. 

In the present day, Billy Davis inherits land in Oregon’s Willamette Valley that’s been in his family for 170 years. However, it’s a financial burden to maintain given his work limitations; as a consequence of losing part of his leg serving in Afghanistan, he collects disability, and he’s fallen perilously behind on the plot’s taxes. Billy happens upon a jug while digging on his property and also finds a ring that turns out to be surprisingly valuable. Tidemann (The Elk and Other Stories, 2013, etc.) chronicles the tangled history of the ring and the land in a sometimes-confusing tale that begins with the journey of English explorer Sir Francis Drake to Oregon in 1579. Drake liberates Maria, a beautiful African slave, from a Spanish ship that he commandeers, and the two have a torrid affair. He gives her an amulet that ends up, many years later, in the possession of Wallace O’Malley, a wealthy businessman and slave owner in the American South. Wallace’s daughter, Carissa, falls in love with Philip Davis, whose father, Corville, is Billy’s great-great-great-great-grandfather and the owner of a hotel on the land that Billy later occupies. The bond between Philip and Carissa is threatened by the political tumult of the Civil War; Philip is opposed to slavery and joins the Union Army to fight against it, while Wallace devotes himself to defending that grim institution. Philip is an ardent defender of the rights of Native Americans, as well—his best friend, Little Elk, is a Klickitat—and he’s drawn into a brewing conflict when a wave of white settlers comes to Oregon.  Tidemann’s mastery of the complex nuances of multiple historical periods is extraordinary. Also, his prose style, especially in dialogue, is consistently faithful to the period in which it occurs—no mean feat, considering the frequent vacillations between various eras. The author’s ambition is breathtaking as he attempts to weave several competing storylines into one coherent narrative—a grand drama that encompasses no less than the entire history of the nation. However, Tidemann indulges in so many different subplots that the novel becomes an increasingly tedious challenge to follow, and the convolution is only exacerbated by the aforementioned temporal swings. Also, the author’s attraction to overarching moral lessons tends to result in clichéd contrivances, such as Wallace’s explanation for his devotion to slavery: “I owned human beings, because that was the only way I could keep from feeling owned myself.” Furthermore, the author’s impressive desire to weave a seamless fictional tapestry out of so many sundry parts results in some clumsily forced elements, as when Billy’s wife, Sarah, writes a doctoral dissertation on the “Early European contact with indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest.” Many of the digressive plotlines could simply have been discarded, including one that follows the relationship of a Union officer and Little Elk’s sister, Sidnayoh.

A panoramic epic freighted with too many subplots. 

Pub Date: May 28, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-984978-09-7

Page Count: 348

Publisher: Northwest Passages

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2018

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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TRUE BETRAYALS

Thoroughbreds and Virginia blue-bloods cavort, commit murder, and fall in love in Roberts's (Hidden Riches, 1994, etc.) latest romantic thriller — this one set in the world of championship horse racing. Rich, sheltered Kelsey Byden is recovering from a recent divorce when she receives a letter from her mother, Naomi, a woman she has believed dead for over 20 years. When Kelsey confronts her genteel English professor father, though, he sheepishly confesses that, no, her mother isn't dead; throughout Kelsey's childhood, she was doing time for the murder of her lover. Kelsey meets with Naomi and not only finds her quite charming, but the owner of Three Willows, one of the most splendid horse farms in Virginia. Kelsey is further intrigued when she meets Gabe Slater, a blue-eyed gambling man who owns a neighboring horse farm; when one of Gabe's horses is mated with Naomi's, nostrils flare, flanks quiver, and the romance is on. Since both Naomi and Gabe have horses entered in the Kentucky Derby, Kelsey is soon swept into the whirlwind of the Triple Crown, in spite of her family's objections to her reconciliation with the notorious Naomi. The rivalry between the two horse farms remains friendly, but other competitors — one of them is Gabe's father, a vicious alcoholic who resents his son's success — prove less scrupulous. Bodies, horse and human, start piling up, just as Kelsey decides to investigate the murky details of her mother's crime. Is it possible she was framed? The ground is thick with no-goods, including haughty patricians, disgruntled grooms, and jockeys with tragic pasts, but despite all the distractions, the identity of the true culprit behind the mayhem — past and present — remains fairly obvious. The plot lopes rather than races to the finish. Gambling metaphors abound, and sexual doings have a distinctly equine tone. But Roberts's style has a fresh, contemporary snap that gets the story past its own worst excesses.

Pub Date: June 13, 1995

ISBN: 0-399-14059-X

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1995

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